Over 250 claimants who have had telephone assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) have so far completed our survey, which is still open. As a result we have a lot of information on the problems and pitfalls to share with readers.
Because so many people have told us about their experiences, we have had to divide this article into two parts. Part two will be published next week.
You may get an assessment call out of the blue, without any warning.
Even if you do get notice, you may not get the legal minimum or not get notice in writing.
Most assessment calls are on time. But some are late and some get their call hours before it was due.
Some people do not get called but are nonetheless told that they failed to answer their phone.
Some people received a second, follow-up call.
Almost half of assessment calls last over an hour, with some running to over two.
The length of the phone call may be used as evidence against you.
One in ten of you said that the assessor was not working from a quiet, confidential location.
Some assessors would not allow a family member or carer to help with the assessment.
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IAS or Capita
People responding to our survey were fairly evenly split between Independent Assessment Services (IAS formerly Atos) on 38% and Capita on 36% as their assessment provider. 26% were not sure.
We would have expected to see IAS more heavily represented, given that they cover considerably more of the population than Capita.
No written notice
Having time to prepare yourself for an assessment is important for most people, especially if they need to have someone with them.
The law says that you should receive seven days’ written notice of the date, time and place of your assessment.
Worryingly, 13% of respondents said they didn’t get any notice at all.
“Call came out of the blue. My husband answered the phone and as soon as PIP review was mentioned and my name he handed the call over to me. Immediate reaction, was this going to be a scam call.”
“I didn’t receive any notification that the call was taking place and didn’t know it was my assessment. The first I knew was when I received a text to say they had now received my report! My PIP was reduced.”
It’s possible that some of those who received a call with no notice were not having a telephone assessment at all. Instead, IAS or Capita may have been doing a paper assessment and the assessor was just checking on a small amount of detail that wasn’t in the forms.
However, that is a process that should take just a few minutes. 30% of the people who got no notice said the call lasted between 30 minutes and an hour, 6% said it lasted over an hour and 21% were not sure. A call of 30 minutes or more is not a legitimate part of a paper assessment.
25% of our respondents said they got notice, but less than a week.
“Received letter on Tuesday informing me of my appointments for a telephone assessment will be at 9.15am on Thursday. Two days notice via letter and a reminder text sent early hours on Thursday.”
“Got a text two days before, a letter the day of assessment (today, ) assessment was at 9.15 am and letter arrived at 11.50 am.... Too late.”
“The day before my assessment I received an extremely early phone call, which woke me up, and the woman demanded I give her my NI number before she would tell me who she was, or why she was calling. As I wasn't able to get up and find it, she got very annoyed and told me that I would *have to have it available for the assessment* which she then told me would be the next day. Then she hung up.”
Added to the 13% who got no notice at all, this means that the law was broken in over a third of assessments
Of those who were informed in advance, 18% only got contacted by phone. This may have been a text in some cases, but we would argue that a text is not the equivalent of a letter in these circumstances.
For many people, the assessment process causes great anxiety. This is made much worse if you are sitting waiting for the phone to ring long after your appointment time.
In general, fortunately the assessor was punctual.
70% said their call was on time, while 12% didn’t know if it was or not because they weren’t given a time.
But 18%, almost one in five, said the call was not on time.
“Half an hour after the appointment I rang and was told the assessor would be a little longer. They were still busy writing the previous report. Another 45 mins after that, the assessor finally called.”
“Appointment was 9.15am. Received first call from assessor at 9.36am informing me of a ‘problem with their systems not booting up’ and she would call me back at 10am. She called back at 10.17am to start my telephone assessment.”
“It was half hour late and the phone rang a man told me that the assessor that was doing my assessment now wasn't and someone else would be and they would ring in about 15 minutes, all in all an hour late.”
It is worth being aware that the call may also come hours earlier than booked.
“My telephone appointment was supposed to be 11.55 but assessor phoned hour early.”
“The woman doing the assessment rang early.”
““3 hours earlier””
Much worse than a delayed call, for some claimants the call never happened at all.
“Capita did not call. My appointment was at 11.45, I waited and no call was received. I phoned them at 1215hrs and was told that I had failed to attend for my assessment and that they had called 3 times! I was sat with my phone waiting for the call. They then blamed it on Vodafone saying they must have blocked them. I confirmed with Vodafone that no blocks are on my line.”
“I never slept the night before as I was so nervous, I was up early & sat waiting...and waited all day waiting for the phone call to then receive a text at 5.45pm to say it was cancelled! A new appointment was text to me but the assessor I got that day was rude & not very nice. I felt very spoken down to.”
“But my first appointment they didn't call me or apologise for missing the call / appointment Imagine if that was the other way around.”
It’s also worth knowing that you may get a second call a day or more after the first. This may be as a result of the assessor’s report being checked by a supervisor who is not happy with some aspect of it.
“Assessor very nice on first call, but when called back it was as though she was looking for ways to catch me out. Had an agenda.”
“The Assessor called back the following morning and said she wanted a better picture of "Going out ". I was completely taken unaware and I believe I was misled into saying how going out made me feel physically ill as opposed to the psychological effects of it. The call lasted for 6 minutes. I am awaiting their decision.”
Length of the call
Be prepared for a long call from the assessor.
Many people were told the call would last about 40 minutes. In almost half of cases this was an underestimate.
11% said the call lasted less than 30 minutes and 40% said between 30 minutes and an hour.
But 46% said the assessment lasted longer than an hour whilst 4% weren’t sure how long it took.
“My assessment started at 10.30 am and finished at 12.30am I was exhausted!”
“3 and a half long draining hours”
“2 and a half hours”
“I have ADHD and Asperger's syndrome which makes it difficult for me to process information and answer the questions in the manner required. The assessor kept saying that she would have to terminate the assessment if I did not answer is the way she needed me to. This was distressing. I explained the stress I was under and fact I needed to get the assessment over with that day. In the end she rang me back - it took all afternoon. (I had explained in my PIP form the problems I would have answering Qs in a Q and A form of assessment and would need more time and frequent stops) I am glad it is over with - but I felt pushed to answer Qs in a certain way.”
Phone call used against claimant
Worryingly, we even heard from one claimant who said that the length of the phone call was used as part of the grounds to remove their PIP award.
“My PIP was not renewed. One of the reasons given was that I managed to continue the phone call for so long. This was despite me being exhausted by the call and highly anxious throughout.”
Another said that the use of a phone had been grounds for reducing points.
“Lost points because I used a phone which was on loud speaker on the arm of the sofa and because I have strength to use a crutch which is wrong”
Somewhere private in your home
Having somewhere private in your home to make a call wasn’t an issue for most of you.
92% of those surveyed said there was somewhere quiet in their home.
But for the other 8% this was a problem.
“Had to sit in our car”
“Quite noisy neighbours at the time”
“ I’m a single parent so had to warn to kids to stay out of the room and watch their tablets”
“Also had children who I did not want to hear what was being said.”
Much more worryingly, 12% of you said that the assessor did not have a quiet, confidential place to work from.
Another 22% were not sure whilst 66% didn’t report any problems.
Being assured of confidentiality during such a deeply personal and invasive process isn’t just a goal, it’s an absolute necessity. If an assessor does not have a private space to make calls, they should not be working.
“Could hear other people laughing and making comments in the background. Then someone saying sshhh.”
“Her husband was in the vicinity and I was on speaker phone.”
“There was some noise at the beginning of the call which sounded like cupboards being opened and shut, I was not sure if it was her doing this or someone she was with.”
“Could hear noises in background. At one point she had to stop and ask me to hold for about two minutes.”
“Banging, dog barking , I lost concentration!”
“There was some disruption because of her child in the background.”
“ She was working from home and had a young child to look after.”
Someone with you
You have a right to have someone else, such as a family member or carer, be part of the assessment process. A government minister recently underlined that this applies to telephone assessments as well as face-to-face ones.
In some cases, support from another person was welcomed by assessors.
“The assessor facilitated a 3 way call with my family support worker, was friendly and understanding.”
In other cases, however, the assessor was aggressively opposed to anyone else taking part.
“They didn't like that call was on speaker phone with my partner present. Told him it was unacceptable to help me. Wouldn't let me answer with more than a few word's. Kept cutting me off with things like "that's not the way pip wants it answered" "I've already explained to you" Numerous threats to end the call.”
“The assessor called me a liar on the phone. He demanded that I must speak for myself and not my representative. He told my representative that she is not allowed to talk on my behalf. He was rude and I was made to feel low.”
In the second part of this article, we’ll be looking at a range of other issues, including the assessor’s manner, technical problems with calls, questions about daily living and mobility and we’ll be hearing from people who have had the result of their telephone assessment.